Blown To Bits

More DMCA Shenanigans

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008 by Hal Abelson

Just when you thought it might be safe to go back into the water …. the DMCA anticircumvention sharks have started circling again.

Last week I blogged about how it is becoming more and more apparent, to the content industry as well as to consumers, that Digital Rights Management (DRM), enshrined in law through the DMCA’s anticircumvention provision, is a dead-end business model as well as a drag on innovation. See Signs of a Move Towards Balance? (Part 2 of 2).

But not everyone has gotten the message, in particular not the Motion Picture Association of America, which today filed a lawsuit against Real Networks, charging it with violating the DMCA by distributing RealDVD.¬† The RealDVD software lets consumers copy DVDs to their personal computers.¬† It doesn’t permit unlimited copying, but rather uses its own form of DRM to lock the copy to be playable on only a single PC; additional PCs require additional licenses.

What we’re seeing here is another example of the dynamic described in B2B, where the industry uses the Copy Control Association (CCA) licensing scheme to squelch innovations that they don’t like: innovations like RealDVD that (horrors!) make DVDs more friendly¬† for consumers.

Real Networks, for its part, has filed its own suit, asking court to rule that RealDVD is in compliance with the CCA license.¬†¬† That’s not unreasonable: at first blush, RealDVD seems a lot like the Kaleidescape case described in chapter 6 of B2B, where the content industry huffed and puffed, but where the court found there was no license violation.¬† Yet, that was a different court.

Regardless of who wins in court, the fact is that this continues the DMCA’s track record as a dead weight hanging over the head of innovation.¬† Decisions that should be made on the basis of technology and consumer choice are instead being made by courts struggling to interpret a law that was a bad idea when it appeared in 1998 and has revealed itself to be a worse and worse idea every year.

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